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Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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UC California Naturalists interpret nature with art

Art is an expression of creativity, a conveyance of beauty, and for naturalists, it is a way to process, remember and interpret nature.

Many branches of nature art are popular, such as photography, painting and sketching. The UC California Naturalist Regional Rendezvous in October introduced an old but uncommon method for documenting natural objects – cyanotype.

A completed cyanotype print.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process invented in the mid-1800s. It is best known as the long-time technique for duplicating building designs and the reason they are still called “blue prints.” Now the deep cyan blue can be an artistic backdrop to the interesting shapes and forms of natural treasures.

At the CalNat Rendezvous at the Pepperwood Preserve, Santa Rosa artist Jessica Layton taught the cyanotype process to volunteers certified by the UC California Naturalist program, giving them a new tool to use in educating and engaging children and adults in conservation organizations they work with around the state.

The cyanotype process begins by mixing two chemicals - ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide – to create the blue photo reactive solution. The chemicals may be purchased at art stores and online by searching for cyanotype solutions.

UC California Naturalist director Adina Merenlender, left, and Marisa Rodriguez, CalNat Education Specialist, paint on the cyanotype solution in a darkened room.

Once blended, the chemicals are painted on paper or cotton cloth and allowed to dry. Leaves, grasses, seeds, pine cones, flowers, stones – any number of natural objects collected outside may be artfully arranged on the blue background and, if needed, held in place with a pane of glass.

The project is then set out in bright sunlight for 5 to 7 minutes, brought back inside to be washed in clean water and allowed to dry. The areas of the paper or cloth exposed to the sun are a radiant lapis blue; the areas that were shaded by the natural objects appear in silhouette.

Director of the UC California Naturalist program, Adina Merenlender, collects natural objects at Pepperwood Preserve for making cyanotype art.
The director of the UC California Naturalist Program, Adina Merenlender, participated in the cyanotype training.

“I have come to appreciate art as a way to improve observation skills and deepen an appreciation for nature,” Merenlender said. “We offered this session to our volunteers for them to improve their capacity and become better naturalists.”

Artist Jessica Layton, left, shows a cyanotype mural project made by the group. The fabric was commercially treated with the cyanotype solutions and captured the silhouettes of a wide variety of objects, including hands, sunglasses and a water bottle.
 
California Naturalist Kat Green said she's seen cyanotype before and always want to try it, so jumped at the chance to practice the project at the CalNat Regional Rendezvous.
 
"Different people connect with nature in different ways," Greene said. "I don't have an artistic knack, so being able to share this experience with people allows me to connect with them in a way I couldn't connect otherwise."
Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 10:15 AM

More Latinos are joining 4-H, according to initial UC ANR outreach report

Latino youth participation in 4-H is on the rise, according to a report on the first year of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' three-year 4-H Latino Initiative.

Increasing Latino participation in 4-H has been a priority for some time. Over the last five years, participation in 4-H increased 41 percent; Latino participation increased 173 percent. While growing, the fraction of 4-H members who are Latino still falls below their proportion of the state's population.

“We're just getting started in implementing a new statewide comprehensive plan to reach Latino youth,” said Lupita Fabregas, assistant director for 4-H diversity and expansion. “We know 4-H helps prepare kids for success in college and life. We're thrilled to be involving more Latinos.”

When 4-H was formed 100 years ago, it was an educational club for farm kids. Often seen in spotless white and kelly green garments, participants raised animals, gardened, cooked and sewed while learning leadership and public speaking skills. In the latter half of the 20th century, when California became more urbanized, 4-H began adding education in broader program areas, such as rocketry, robotics, computer science and environmental stewardship.

Youth experiment at a 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics booth at Bay Area Science Festival Discovery Day. (Photo: Sonoma County 4-H)

California demographics were also changing. The state became more ethnically diverse. In 2014, Latinos surpassed whites as the largest ethnic group. But they weren't reaping the benefits of 4-H membership at the same rate.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) the 4-H parent organization in California, researched the reasons for low Latino 4-H membership, and realized there were opportunities to develop new program models and methods to reach minority populations without changing the 4-H core values.

“As an organization, we identified the values and core elements of 4-H that make us unique,” said Shannon Horrillo, UC ANR statewide 4-H director. “We decided that no matter how we adapted the program, we would not stray from those foundational elements.”

4-H members compete in a chili cookoff. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Core elements include youth leadership, youth-adult partnerships, life skills learning, community service and service learning, the 4-H Pledge, and well-known 4-H name and green four-leaf clover emblem. It became apparent that some of the requirements that were part of the community club tradition – such as the required meeting attendances, parliamentary procedures and officer structure – were barriers to extending the program to a more diverse population.

“We can be more flexible in how the program looks and in requirements while maintaining what has made 4-H an impactful program for more than 100 years,” Horrillo said.

New club models were launched, including special interest clubs (called SPIN clubs), in-school clubs and after-school clubs.

4-H members can learn about agricultural science.

4-H membership began looking a lot more like the highly diverse citizenry in the state's densely populated cities. In 2016, UC ANR allocated funds to employ bilingual 4-H community education specialists in seven California counties for three years to further boost Latino participation. The specialists are making a concerted effort to reach out to Latino youth, parents, community leaders, schools, churches and other organizations to extend 4-H programming to wider and more diverse audiences in Kern, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties.

“Our staff are making strides in adapting 4-H to be culturally relevant for Latino youth,” Fabregas said. “This work will help all youth feel welcome, appreciated and valued in 4-H programs.”

The new effort will include a fundraising program to maintain and expand the emphasis on Latino outreach after the current three-year funding period concludes. The UC ANR Development office is working with the 4-H Latino Initiative to develop a plan to combine local fundraising, grant awards, contracts with schools and agencies, and foundation and private gifts to keep the program going beyond the current three-year term.

“Though the progress to date has been significant, we know that we'll need to hire more community educators to strengthen our resources if we're going to bring 4-H to a great number of Latinos,” said Andrea Ambrose, UC ANR director of development.

 

Hesperia Highlighters 4-H Club in San Bernardino, Calif.
Posted on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 1:57 PM

Hybrid oak trees muddle identification at California Naturalist Regional Rendezvous

Knowing the names of trees is a point of pride for many California Naturalists. So a walk among the diversity of oaks at the Pepperwood Preserve left many feeling humbled.

The three-hour excursion was part of the UC California Naturalist Regional Rendezvous in October at the 3,200-acre nature preserve nestled in the foothills between Napa Valley and Santa Rosa.

Excursion leader Steve Barnhart, academic director emeritus at Pepperwood, said there are 500 oak species in the world; 21 in California. But cohabitating on the rolling hills and valleys of the Golden State, many oaks have produced hybrids that combine characteristics, making identification challenging.

Steve Barnhart opens the 'Oaks of Pepperwood' excursion during the California Naturalist Regional Rendezvous.

Doctoral candidate Phrahlada Papper, who is studying oak tree genetics, said, “I'm of the mind that you shouldn't ever name an oak.”

Even the tan oak, long thought to be misnamed, is coming under new scrutiny.

“It's not an oak,” Barnhart said. “It has acorns, male and female flowers on the same stalk, but tan oaks are insect pollinated. True oaks are wind pollinated. Tan oaks are closer to chestnuts.”

But Papper raised his hand. “Genetically, it might be an oak,” he said.

Barnhart laughed. “So tan oak is up in the air. That's why it's so much fun to be in science,” he said. “I learned something today.”

Doctoral student Phrahlada Papper discusses oak tree genetics.

In popular culture, oaks are thought to be majestic, towering trees, with wide spreading branches. However, Barnhart said, most California oaks are shrubs, including the leather oak.

Leather oaks grow in serpentine soils and have the ability to produce two types of flowers, one in the spring and another quite different in the fall. Leather oaks are monoecious, they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. On a particular leather oak at Pepperwood, Papper was surprised to find male and female flower parts in one bract and surmised that weather patterns may be responsible.

“California has weird weather and with climate change, it's getting even more weird,” Papper said.

Leather oak details.

Papper believes tracking phenology, the cyclic and seasonal changes in plants, is an ideal citizen science project for California Naturalists. One such project underway at Pepperwood is led by Wendy Herniman. A University of Edinburgh, Scotland, master's student, Heniman is documenting the phenology of 10 Pepperwood oak trees: 2 blue oaks, 3 coast live oaks, 2 black oaks and 3 Oregon oaks.

“Pepperwood is looking at climate change. It's a designated sentinel site. We're monitoring fog, we have soil probes, and we're collecting all weather and climate information. We can tie that to phenology,” she said. “We're trying to find out if phenophases are changing.”

Understanding the changing phenophases is important, Barnhart said.

“Everything is connected,” he said. “If acorns are produced early, animals species that depend on the food source will be disrupted. You have imbalances in the timing of the natural world. With climate change, what are the effects we'll be seeing?”

Wendy Heniman talks about her research near a hybrid Oregon-Blue oak hybrid.
 
The acorn shape is Oregon oak-like, the leave contours are blue oak-like.
 
California native poison oak is also found on the Pepperwood Preserve. It is unpopular with humans, but birds like golden berries.
A 15-year-old Douglas fir was mechanically cut out stop it from crowding a 50- to 60-year-old oak, Steve Barnhart said. Fire suppression is giving oak competitors like fir a greater foodhold in oak woodlands.
Posted on Monday, October 16, 2017 at 1:30 PM

Houses likely burned from the inside out, says UCCE forest advisor

Fire damage from the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Buildings can burn quickly if embers get inside and fall on flammable materials.

Preventing embers from getting inside may save homes

Photos and video of the Northern California communities that have been hit by wildfires this week show buildings reduced to ash. How could so many homes and businesses burn so quickly in Wine Country fires? Many houses that burned to the ground in the Northern California fires likely burned from the inside out, says Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Red hot embers carried on the wind can enter the attic via the venting. “In the case of the wind-driven fires on October 8, these fires created ember storms that blasted little coals into everything in their pathway,” Valachovic said. These embers also create small spot fires near the home that fuel new sources of embers.

Weather played a large role in these fires and generated a fire storm of embers that ignited grass, shrubs, trees and anything in its path. “While the landscape can be the fuse, the homes really can be the most burnable part of the landscape,” Valachovic said. “These embers likely lodged in the small spaces and openings of homes and buildings. A common location is for the embers to enter via attic venting or HVAC systems distributing little fires into the buildings.

“Embers also landed on receptive leaves, outside furniture, and other flammable materials outside the buildings that created fires adjacent to the buildings. Once enough buildings were engulfed in fire, the radiant heat of each building fire led to exposures on the neighboring buildings, creating a house-to-house burn environment.”

Embers can ignite dry plant material like pine needles and create more embers that may enter homes through vents.

Residents can reduce the risk of embers setting their house on fire by removing dry plants around the structure.

“These fires remind us that everyone in California could help the fire situation by managing the vegetation, leaves in the gutters and decks, newspaper piles, brooms and other flammable sources near to their houses now before they get the evacuation call,” Valachovic said. “If you are likely to have to evacuate soon, temporarily covering or sealing up the vents with metal tape or plywood can help harden your home to an ember storm.”

Steve Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus, who spent his career studying fire behavior on building materials and around homes, created an online Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Wildfire. Quarles, who now does research for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, demonstrates how embers can ignite and quickly engulf a house in flames in a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvbNOPSYyss. After the 3-minute mark, video shows embers drifting up and flying through a screened vent into the house, where they could ignite combustible materials in the attic resulting in fire starting on the inside of the home.

“If you have time to prepare your home, use the wildfire last-minute check list at http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IBHS-Wildfire-Last-Minute-Checklist.pdf,” Valachovic said.

Valachovic has co-authored publications in home survival in wildfire prone areas http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8393.pdf and how landscape plants near homes can create more vulnerability to wildfire http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8228.pdf.

Once these fires are extinguished, a more detailed analysis will be possible.

“Past wildfire events have shown that this is the common way homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) burn, and this scenario was likely translated to the urban environment,” she said.  

Posted on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 10:54 PM

Preparing to evacuate during wildfire? These checklists can help

Fire was visible from UC's experimental vineyard in Oakville as the staff prepared to evacuate. Photo by Kaan Kurtural
As more than 20 major wildfires burn in Northern California, residents in those regions need to be ready to evacuate on short notice. The wind-driven fires are moving quickly and can change direction unexpectedly.
 
“It is pretty tense here as the fire north of us keeps circling back and forth,” said Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension director in Mendocino County, on Oct. 12. “So far most of the damage has been in Redwood Valley, where over 200 homes were lost and people had only minutes to get out.”

To help people prepare, CAL FIRE has a checklist for evacuation online at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Evacuation-Steps. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists contributed to the research behind the recommendations.

A one-page checklist online at http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IBHS-Wildfire-Last-Minute-Checklist.pdf, also based on research by UC ANR scientists, is available from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Napa County residents have been told to be prepared in case they need to leave.

“We have team members tending to their own homes and or family's needs, providing support in shelters, and being available for immediate clientele needs in any way they can,” said David Lewis, UC Cooperative Extension director in Napa and Marin counties. “We look forward to calling upon UC colleagues with more experience to support our communities in the long recovery period. For the immediate future, we will stay focused in our efforts to support evacuation and shelter efforts – personal safety and needs are priority one until the fires no longer pose a threat.”

The main thing to remember when preparing to evacuate is to protect your life first.

“Don't die trying to prepare your house before you leave,” said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension director and forest advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. “Monitor the situation, watch the wind directions, and listen to all emergency personnel.”

To receive timely updates on fire conditions, Brian Oatman, UC ANR Risk & Safety Services director, uses Nixle. “While some communication methods may not work due to outages, the more sources we have, the better the chance that the message gets through,” Oatman said. To sign up for text alerts, visit http://www.nixle.com or text your zipcode to 888-777 to opt-in.

“We have coordinated with CropMobster to create a resource list at https://sfbay.cropmobster.com/bay-area-fire-resources where anyone can post any needs or offer help of any kind,” said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension director in Sonoma County. “UCCE Sonoma has also created a Disaster Recovery for Agriculture Operations at http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/Disaster_Resources for homeowners and managers of rangelands. UCCE is working closely with Sonoma County to provide UC ANR resources to assist with the recovery of our community that has been devastated by this fire.”

In Yuba County, the Cascade fire is 45 percent contained as of Oct. 12. “Evacuation orders are being lifted in parts of Yuba County,” said Janine Hasey, UC Cooperative Extension director for Sutter and Yuba counties. “Kate Wilkin, our new UC Cooperative Extension forestry, fire science and natural resources advisor in Sutter, Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties, has assembled resources for residents who are returning to their homes at http://cesutter.ucanr.edu/Fire_Information. We will be updating the website with more recovery information in the coming days.”

Posted on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 6:34 PM

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